Cacophonic thunder: Vessel at Cornerstone 

click to enlarge Vessel

It's a typical teenagers bedroom, purple-painted walls, scores of posters and memorabilia of rock artists, motocross and other assorted pop culture remnants. And like many other teenage bedrooms, it's the home of a band. David Lee's bedroom on the city's southwest side also doubles as a practice space for his metal band, Vessel. The four-piece has only been together since April of last year, but they sound seasoned beyond their years.

With so much sound equipment crammed into the room, it gets hot fast. Lee offers everyone water and a plate of sliced Jamaican fruit during a recent get-together one toasty afternoon. He settles in behind his drum kit, which is wedged into the accompanying bathroom, and the rest of Vessel, vocalist Ben Morphew, guitarist Eric Sims and bassist Olas Ortwein launch into a song called "False Body."

Ambient at the outset, it quickly explodes into a cacophonic thunder that Morphew obliges with throat-shredding screams. Beyond just the typical messy catharsis of a young rock band, though, this composition also includes spacey guitar jams by Sims and busy rhythms from Ortwein and Lee.

So it goes with "Riddles in the Dark," an unrecorded track that features a searing lead by Sims on eight-string guitar and is at turns funky, capriciously blasting and menacingly martial.

"Brother," their first official single, has dueling blues fire between Sims and Ortwein both using eight-string guitars and time signatures both frantic and catatonic.

"We're not trying to limit ourselves to any one genre. We just play whatever we like. Each song kind of builds off itself. That gives it more continuity even though many of our songs have all kinds of crazy changes," said Ortwein.

The four members of Vessel, all friends since their freshman year at Perry Meridian High School, like a lot of different music. Recently Ortwein has been listening to everything from the rabid metal of Lamb of God and the jazz fusion of Snarky Puppy to the hipster rap of Childish Gambino.

"We get in the van to go play a show, and I'll have to move all of Olas' Miles Davis CDs just to sit down. Other times it's Kayne West or Ben's electronic and dubstep. I'm the same way. We're all so different that it's the same in a weird way," said Lee Everyone except Morphew was in a band together called Barbados Slim while still in high school, whose sound was more mainstream. Still, when they'd play a heavier part the audience always seemed to respond better.

"We decided [with Vessel] that we wanted to keep that energy," said Lee. After Barbados Slim broke up last year, the remaining members recruited Morphew, Sims' cousin, to form Vessel. They wrote half a dozen songs in a week. Their first show followed immediately Rock 4 the Earth at Perry Meridian. It was Morphew's first public performance.

"There were a lot of people in the orchestra pit, so it was kind of funny when there was an actual mosh pit going on during our show. We didn't encourage it, and were told not to, but I guess they couldn't help themselves. For my first show, that was amazing," he said.

Vessel has only managed to play sporadically since then. Having both Sims and Ortwein living in Bloomington and Morphew working full-time are contributing factors. The Gear in Franklin and the Emerson Theater have hosted them multiple times.

There's also been one church gig, which has led some to believe Vessel is a Christian band. Not so, the members said Morphew, however, is sensitive to using profanity in his lyrics, or addressing subjects of a violent or sexual nature.

"I keep it not depressing and [not] suicidal," he said.

Given the dearth of all-ages venues here, keeping it non-controversial is almost borne out of necessity. Some of Vessel's members aren't 21 yet. Despite their discordant sound, they want to be heard by as many people as possible. Plus, to put it simply, they don't want to upset their parents.

"They've been all really involved and have wanted to come to our shows. We didn't want them coming to any shows and thinking, 'I didn't think it was going to be like this,' even though it's metal," said Lee.

Vessel should find plenty of kindred spirits when it plays the Cornerstone Festival July 6 in Bushnell, Ill. Sims submitted them for the slot, and they were accepted for what is to be the 28th and final Cornerstone event.

"We'll be part of history for that," said Morphew.

Beyond that Vessel are prepping to record their full-length debut and hope to tour farther out from Indianapolis. Geography, they said, is one of the biggest obstacles they're facing.

"If you want to play music for a living, you can't live in Indiana. That's pretty much how it is," said Sims.

For them, it's not just the lack of a bona fide local music scene they see, especially for hardcore and metal. It's also the restrictions on where someone under 21 can play.

But Lee sees hopeful signs that Indiana, and particularly its capitol, are becoming much friendlier toward the arts.

"If we would've been born five years later, we'd have a much better environment in which to thrive. I think Indianapolis will become known as an artists' colony," he said.

Aside from the invitation to play Cornerstone, there are other hopeful signs for Vessel. Universal Music Group offered to fund their recording of a single, which turned out to be "Brother." The feedback they get at gigs is encouraging too.

"There's always at least one person who says we're different in some way. When we tell someone who we are, we often hear, 'Oh you're that blank band.' They fill in the blank and I always agree with it. It's been punk, hardcore, metal[and]progressive. It's always something different and I always say 'Yeah,' because it's true," said Lee.


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